Warnings of Catastrophe
The Rwanda Sitreps
The Rwanda "Genocide Fax": What We Know Now
The U.S. and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994: Evidence of Inaction
IN THE NEWS
Britain ignored genocide threat in Rwanda
The Shroud Over Rwanda's Nightmare
"The Rwandan Genocide," Letter to the Editor, The New York Times
"The Rwandan Genocide," Letter to the Editor, The New York Times
Washington, DC, March 20, 2014 – Unwilling to bear the political and economic burden of shoring up a key African ally all by herself, France sought to internationalize a growing political and military crisis in Rwanda by pushing responsibility onto the United Nations in the period leading up to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. At the same time, French president Francois Mitterrand remained deeply suspicious of Tutsi-led rebels who invaded Rwanda from Uganda, with what an aide described as "the benevolent complicity of the Anglo-Saxon world." (Document 15)
The contradictions in Mitterrand's policy toward Rwanda are captured in French government documents, translated into English by the National Security Archive at George Washington University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The documents trace the alarm felt in Paris over military advances by Tutsi-led rebels and frustration with the Hutu-dominated government of President Juvénal Habyarimana.
Today's postings form part of a detailed documentation of the international response to the genocide that killed between 500,000 and a million Rwandans, predominantly Tutsi, between April and July 1994. Future briefing books will examine events before and after the onset of the genocide, including the Arusha peace negotiations, a growing refugee crisis, and the fateful decision to withdraw the bulk of the United Nations peacekeeping force.
French President Francois Mitterand, photo courtesy of Wikimedia
The documents posted today in English and French are extracted from hundreds of documents released by a French parliamentary commission in 1998 and the so-called "Mitterrand archive," which was leaked to French researchers from 2005 onwards. While the provenance of the Mitterrand archive remains unclear, the authenticity of the documents has been confirmed by former Mitterrand aides, French researchers, and lawyers involved in a series of cases related to the genocide.
While the documents contained in the Mitterrand archive provide a valuable insight into official French thinking, the unauthorized nature of their release also raises problems for independent researchers. It is impossible to know, for example, how many documents are missing from the archive, and the reasons for their non-disclosure. The motivations of the leaker, or leakers, also remain unclear.
French researchers have noted several glaring gaps in the collection, parts of which have been made available to journalists and other researchers at the Francois Mitterrand Institute in Paris. The documents focus on political developments and offer relatively scant details about the military cooperation between France and Rwanda between 1990 and 1994. Also missing are details of the French decision to accord protection and political asylum to leading members of the Rwandan regime following the assassination of President Habyarimana on April 6, 1994. It is important that the public be given access to these records in order to complete the picture of French decision-making about the Rwandan genocide.
The documents portray France as a reluctant, and somewhat ambiguous, supporter of the Habyarimana regime in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994. On the one hand, Mitterrand viewed Rwanda as an integral part of French-speaking Africa, known as Francophonie, on the edge of what French officials called an "Anglophone front." (Document 8) On the other hand, he did not want to squander too much French blood and treasure on a former Belgian — not French — colony.
The French role in supporting the Habyarimana government has been the subject of great controversy, with some critics claiming that France was complicit in the actions of future genocidaires. With Belgium assuming a more neutral position, Habyarimana viewed France as his primary international ally, and a military bulwark against the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front.
After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Mitterrand called for the creation of multi-party democracies in Africa, and linked French economic assistance to progress toward democratization, as reflected in his address to the Franco-African summit at Le Baule in June 1990. The documents show that he urged Habyarimana to negotiate a compromise deal with political opponents inside the country (largely Hutus, based in the south of the country), as well as the armed opposition outside the country (the Rwandan Patriotic Front).
After dispatching thousands of troops and military advisors to Rwanda between 1990 and 1993, France saw the Arusha peace progress, and the arrival of United Nations peacekeepers, as a way to extricate herself from an increasingly complicated political and military situation.
A recurring theme in the documents is the conviction, shared by Mitterrand and his advisers, that the Rwandan Patriotic Front wanted to use its superior military position to restore a Tutsi-dominated regime in Rwanda. French military advisers reported that the rebel movement had acquired surface-to-air missiles from Uganda. When President Habyarimana's plane was shot down by a SAM missile on April 6, 1994, triggering the genocide, French officials immediately suspected the RPF. Other observers, among them Alison Desforges, note that there has never been a full and official investigation into who is responsible for shooting down President Habyarimana's plane, leaving many possibilities including the RPF, Hutu moderates, the president's own party, or possibly the presidential guard.
Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, photo courtesy of Wikimedia
In addition to the documents included in the chronological narrative below, we are also publishing an annex of other French government documents translated into English by the National Security Archive and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. A subsequent posting will focus on French policy toward Rwanda between April and July 1994.
Arnaud Siad is a researcher based in Paris for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a PhD student at the Institute of Political Science (Sciences Po) in Paris. Christina Graubert is a student at Oxford University, and a former intern for the National Security Archive.
Document 1: French version, English version
Document 2: French version, English version
Preparing for an official visit to France in April 1990, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana outlined his political and security concerns to the French ambassador in Kigali, Georges Martres. He also requested military support for his government, to counter a threatened invasion by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, based in Uganda. In these confidential diplomatic dispatches, Martres explains that Habyarimana was becoming increasingly unpopular at home, forcing him to rely on the Rwandan army and police. Habyarimana requests a new plane and radar equipment to counter the air threat from Uganda and the RPF. According to Martres, the president has made similar requests to Belgium over the course of many years, but they have been ignored.
Document 3: French version, English version
President Mitterrand's speech to the Franco-African summit of June 1990 in the western French town of La Baule represented a defining moment in French African policy. In the aftermath of the Cold War, and the fall of the Berlin wall, Mitterrand cited democracy as a "universal principle" and urged African leaders to introduce multi-party systems and guarantee freedom of the press. He also stated that French development aid to African countries would be linked to progress toward democracy.
Document 4: French version, English version
Document 5: French version, English version
On October 1, 1990, Tutsi-led rebels from the Rwandan Patriotic Front invaded Rwanda from Uganda. These two documents reflect the French government's view of the resulting conflict. In a diplomatic cable from Kigali dated October 7, Ambassador Martres urges French military support for President Habyarimana to prevent "domination of the Hutus by the Tutsi minority." The following day, October 8, the chief of the French Defence Staff, Admiral Jacques Lanxade, drew the line at direct French involvement in the fighting. He recommended turning down Habyarimana's request for aerial support and engagement of French ground units, but approved the supply of ammunition and rockets to Rwandan government forces.
Document 6: French version, English version
Document 7: French version, English version
On October 24, France responded to the RPF attack by rushing 314 French troops to Rwanda under Operation Noroit, ostensibly to protect French citizens. In these dispatches, French officials discuss the threat of the "total elimination" of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, in response to the RPF invasion. The French military attaché in Rwanda predicts the "likely physical elimination" of Tutsis living inside Rwanda — between 500,000 and 700,000 people — by the seven million strong Hutu majority in the event of a successful Tutsi-led invasion from Uganda.
French military action in Rwanda is ostensibly aimed at protecting European citizens trapped in the northern town of Ruhengeri, which is being besieged by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front. At a cabinet meeting, President Mitterrand depicts the fighting as a conflict between Francophone Rwanda and Anglophone Uganda. He says that Ugandan President Museveni should be told that "it is not normal that the Tutsi minority wants to impose its will on the [Hutu] majority" in Rwanda.
Document 9: French version, English version
President Habyarimana paid an official visit to France in April 1991. In return for French military and diplomatic support, Mitterrand urges the Rwandan leader to push ahead with democratization efforts, respect human rights, and negotiate a political settlement with the Tutsi-led rebels. He also calls for the peaceful return of an estimated half a million Tutsi refugees, forced out of Rwanda following the Hutu-led "revolution" of 1959 and independence from Belgium in 1962.
Document 10: French version, English version
President Mitterrand's military advisor, General Quesnot, reports that an offensive by "Ugandan-Tutsi" rebels in northeast Rwanda has been "neutralized" by the Rwandan army. He reports that a SAM-16 missile, with a range of 5 kilometers (3 miles), has been captured by Rwandan troops, marking a "new and dangerous step in foreign assistance to the rebels."
Document 11: French version, English version
General Quesnot reports to Mitterrand that the RPF has stepped up its offensive into northern Rwanda "with the important support of the Ugandan army," prior to the start of peace negotiations in Arusha, Tanzania, scheduled for July 10, 1992. He recommends that French military advisors be allowed to train Rwandan soldiers in the use of military equipment "subject to the most extreme discretion," but should not take part in combat operations.
Document 12: French version, English version
Document 13: French version, English version
In January 1993, an international human rights commission arrived in Kigali to investigate allegations of Rwandan government connivance in massacres of minority Tutsis. Ambassador Martres feared that the commission report would embarrass President Habyarimana and the French government, and predicted a backlash by Hutu hardliners, based in northern Rwanda. An imprisoned Rwandan journalist, Janvier Afrika, told the commission that the violence was being fueled by "death squads" linked to Hutu extremists close to Habyarimana.
Document 14: French version, English version
On February 8, 1993, following reports of massacres of minority Tutsis, the Rwandan Patriotic Front launched a major offensive in northern Rwanda, capturing the town of Ruhengeri. The French government immediately called a "crisis meeting," and authorized expanded support for the Rwandan army, "with the exception of direct participation of French forces" in the fighting.
Document 15: French version, English version
Reporting on a trip to Rwanda and Uganda, presidential advisor Bruno Delaye describes the "disastrous" political situation in Rwanda following the RPF attack on Ruhengeri. He warns that the rebels are in a position to "capture Kigali." Delaye attempts to negotiate a deal between "the Hutus of the North," gathered around President Habyarimana, who are opposed to any political concessions to the RPF, and "the Hutus of the South," who favor negotiations with the RPF and the overthrow of Habyarimana. The French-brokered deal includes a joint denunciation of the RPF, renewed commitment to democratization, and a resumption of the Arusha peace negotiations.
In a memorandum to French President Mitterrand, Defense Minister Pierre Joxe expresses concern at the failure of the Rwandan army to resist a Tutsi-led invasion of the country, despite the presence of 690 French military advisors under Operation Noroit. He suggests that Habyarimana is "largely responsible" for the "present fiasco" through his "political intransigence." He recommends pressuring Habyarimana to soften his position by threatening to withdraw French troops and negotiate a political solution to the crisis.
Document 17: French version, English version
Anxious to reduce France's military exposure in Rwanda, President Mitterrand sought to internationalize the conflict "by handing it over to the United Nations." He viewed United Nations involvement in Rwanda as the best exit strategy for France, while avoiding an outright RPF victory.
A right-wing victory in French parliamentary elections in March 1993 posed a further complication for French foreign policy, obliging President Mitterrand to share power with a conservative prime minister, Édouard Balladur. During the first cabinet meeting of the "cohabitation" regime, Mitterrand and Balladur agree on the need to reinforce the French presence in Rwanda with 1,000 additional troops.
Document 19: French version, English version
In a private letter to a friend, the French pilot of Habyarimana's plane expresses concern about the possibility of an attack on the Falcon 50 jet. Colonel Minaberry suspects that Rwandan Patriotic Front troops, who have recently taken over the parliament building in Kigali (CND), have the technical capability to shoot down a plane landing at Kigali airport with Soviet SA-7 or SA-16 surface-to-air missiles. He discusses alternative landing approaches to neutralize the threat.
Document 20: French version, English version
The first report to Mitterrand on the downing of Habyarimana's plane "attributes" responsibility to the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, but does not provide any concrete evidence. Presidential advisor Bruno Delaye reports that the Presidential Guard has begun to hunt down political opponents of the president, both Hutus and Tutsis, and a military confrontation "appears inevitable." Delaye says the French embassy is ready to provide shelter to Habyarimana's family, in accordance with Mitterrand's instructions.
Annex of additional French documents
Document 21: French version, English version
Document 22: French version, English version
Document 23: French version, English version
Document 25: French version, English version
Document 26: French version, English version
Document 27: French version, English version
Document 29: French version, English version
Document 30: French version, English version
Document 31: French version, English version
Document 32: French version, English version
Document 33: French version, English version
Document 34: French version, English version
Document 35: French version, English version
Document 37: French version, English version
Document 40: French version, English version
Document 41: French version, English version
Document 42: French version, English version
Document 43: French version, English version
Document 44: French version, English version
Document 45: French version, English version
 Des Forges, Alison, et. al, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda,New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999, pgs 181 – 183.
THE RWANDAN CRISIS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF FRANCE
PART ONE: LEADUP TO THE GENOCIDE
French Documents Available in English for the First Time
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 461
Posted March 20, 2014
Edited by Arnaud Siad; translations by Christina Graubert